Murder the ultimate risk in Phuket land. Did it trigger the temple murders?

PHUKET: Murder the ultimate risk in Phuket land deals. Did it trigger the temple murders?

The significance of the armed attack by six gunmen at Suwanpadit temple in Surat Thani last Sunday is not lost on Phuket people.

The men, armed with pistols, entered the temple and opened fire on Songwut Noppakhun, an official serving with the Surat Thani Provincial Administrative Organization (OrBorJor).

Mr Songwut died at the scene and five-year-old Pornicha Thammasangwan died en route to hospital after being hit by a stray bullet.

Beyond the outrage over the deaths, injuries and the venue of the massacre, the call for weapons checks at temple entrances on major Buddhist holidays is a development that almost no-one wants.

But the call is likely to have little effect. “Honor among thieves” is rare enough, never mind “honor among killers”.

And Chalong Police Superintendent Wichit Intorrasorn has told the Phuket Gazette that police checks at temple fairs always result in weapons being seized, meaning that the checks do not act as a deterrent.

More relevant for Phuket was that Mr Songwut knew someone was coming for him. The rapid return fire of his armed “assistants” makes that a dead giveaway.

But the question remains as to why the assassination was ordered. What was Mr Songwut involved in – or what did he refuse to be involved in – that triggered the killing?

Here, speculation is rife, but police suggest the usual “business dispute” as the cause. And in Phuket “business dispute”, more often than not, means that coveted commodity, ‘land’.

Police would certainly impress this newspaper if they managed to apprehend all the killers, unless the assassins were among the 11 injured. (It’s not difficult to arrest patients in hospitals.)

Even in the case of the 2003 murder of Pongtorn Hiranyaburana, the man appointed to lead the Thaksin-ordered investigation into “suspect land titles” in Phuket, the police have failed to bring the killers to justice.

That said, the hit squad assigned to Mr Pongtorn’s demise seemed a touch more professional. They shot him while he was driving home from Phuket to Surat Thani to see his wife and children. They didn’t wait for the car to stop en route; they nailed a moving target.

Run-of-the-mill intimidation and standover tactics are pretty much considered part of the territory in provincial Thailand.

Indeed, it would be interesting to know if anyone in business in Phuket for more than five years has not been threatened, intimidated or asked, expressly or implicitly, for a bribe or ‘tea money’, the latter being a giggle term for a series of regularly scheduled bribes, usually at month-end.

Here in the boondocks, this is just business as usual – unless, of course, it spills over onto temple grounds.

Heaven help anyone who stands between an unscrupulous man and more money than he has ever seen in his life, even if the sum might appear unimposing to some of our readers.

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Legacy Phuket Gazette

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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